Tag Archives: Ken McClymont

“I am of Ireland” at the Old Red Lion Theatre

State of the nation plays have their admirers but the aims of large narratives and big claims can backfire horribly. Seamus Finnegan’s new play, presenting a history of the troubles in Northern Ireland alongside contemporary politics in the Republic, falls victim to its ambitions on both counts. The collection of brief vignettes are unsatisfying in isolation and fail to cohere into a big picture.

Amongst many plots mangled we meet old friends at a funeral, a family coming to terms with their daughter’s vocation as a nun and a priest stabbed in a racist attack. All rammed together in a breathless effort to examine history, sectarianism, the church and immigration. Arguably any of these stories could be developed, but each contains improbabilities, most notably a former terrorist surprised by the amnesty in the peace process.

It’s a shame the brief scenes deny the cast the chance to shine. In particular the hard work of Shenagh Govan, entering and exiting at speed, is wasted. Angus Castle-Doughty and Richard Fish do well playing various psychopaths and Euan Macnaughton struggles valiantly recounting a life as a terrorist. But these are brief moments not worth the wait. All the performers take on many roles but rather than impress, several casting decisions come across as desperate (if Jerome Ngonadi as a Mother Superior was supposed to be a joke I am afraid nobody was laughing).

Ken McClymont’s direction does nothing to aid the play. Adding songs and constantly moving around chairs between scenes becomes interminable. And some cheap costumes don’t help either. A final problem is Finnegan’s dialogue: full of facts characters must know and downright nonsense, Finnegan can’t even reveal a location without being florid. The vocabulary is unconvincing – someone uses the word harlot sincerely. When all else fails, a character is made to scream. The subject of Ireland and religion should be a fruitful one for a playwright but this is theatrical purgatory.

Until 30 June 2018


Photo by Michael Robinson

“Playground” at the Old Red Lion

A children’s picnic bench and climbing frames are an apt setting for Peter Hamilton’s new work. This is a playwright at play, with an outrageous scenario of book clubs and butchery. Playground is murder mystery, peopled by oddballs, with a wicked sense of humour.

Two peculiar policemen are searching for a child killer. Meanwhile, our prime suspect (Richard Fish) recruits the mentally ill to discuss Enid Blyton books. It’s part of a plan to join the middle classes… somehow. Laura Garnier and Simon Every make the most of their roles as psychiatric patients: Tamsin’s a communist and Stuart a genuine member of the proletariat (always a tricky combination). And Josie Ayers has a great turn as a suicidal, middle-aged misfit with a morbid sex drive. Oh, and there’s a café owner (Sarah Quist) singing nursery rhymes, called Lizzy… or is she? It’s all a bit of a puzzle, but the jokes stop you from taking it too seriously.

There are a lot of ideas here (mostly about mental health), and a stubborn resistance to shape them. Themes are lost in these comic creations – the evening really works as a series of sketches. Director and designer Ken McClymont handles the cast well, but if anyone has a clear idea of what’s going on it doesn’t come through.

By the time the policemen reappear, one of them in drag, I’d relaxed into this tastless, off-beat comedy. Dan MacLane brings a lovely deadpan touch to Detective Mitchell. His lust for colleague copper Birch, Christopher James Barley, making the most of those climbing frames, is deftly done. As a kind of conclusion, Stuart expresses a hope that one day man will live on Mars. Hamilton is already off in space if you ask me, but he can make you laugh whatever planet he’s on.

Until 7 November 2015


Photo by Cameron Sharle